ST. PAUL — With fall classes underway on Minnesota college campuses, students have made housing decisions based on affordability, roommates, amenities and proximity to campus. State Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl says they should also insist on fire safety.
Campus Firewatch, a publication entirely dedicated to fire safety for those living on and near college campuses, reports that 155 people have died in campus-related fires in the U.S. since 2000, with 85 percent of those fires in off-campus residences. The most recent campus fire in Minnesota took place in February, 2012 near Winona State University, destroying part of a house and displacing student residents. The most recent fatal campus-related fire was near the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in September, 2003 and took three lives.
“Students and their parents can help prevent these tragedies by finding safe housing,” Rosendahl said. “That means looking for fire doors, smoke alarms in common areas, fire sprinklers, extinguishers, and escape routes posted where residents can see them. And they should report fire code violations to the local fire department.”
State statute requires smoke alarms on every floor of a multi-unit residential building and unblocked exits from every floor. Sprinkler systems are not required in every building, but statistics show that sprinklers increase the probability of survival up to 85 percent. Fire escape requirements may depend on the age of the building, but they are an important factor in fire safety.
“There is an element of personal responsibility, too,” Rosendahl said. “The safest building may not prevent disaster if the occupants are impaired by alcohol or drugs. The combination of alcohol and smoking is responsible for most fatal fires in Minnesota.”
Students must be aware of basic safety measures. Young people may move into student housing without a thought to overloaded electrical circuits, unsafe cooking or heat sources like curling irons and coffee makers.
Basic tips for fire safety both on- and off-campus:
• Is there a smoke alarm in every bedroom and on every level of the house?
• Is there a carbon monoxide alarm within 10 feet of every bedroom?
• Is the building equipped with an automatic fire-sprinkler system?
On-campus specific questions:
• Is there on-site management to help in an emergency?
• How much fire prevention training does the residence hall staff receive?
• How often are fire safety inspections done?
Off-campus specific questions:
• How many people are living in the house or apartment?
• Is smoking allowed in the house or apartment?
• Are there scheduled evacuation drills?
• Is there a fire escape plan for the building?
What Can You Do?
• Assign a safety monitor at events who stays unimpaired.
• Clean up immediately after parties and take the trash outside.
• Do not overload electrical outlets.
• Keep space heaters and halogen lamps away from flammable material.
• Put out candles and incense when they are unattended; better yet, use flameless candles.
• Extinguish smoking materials thoroughly in an appropriate container.
• Don’t smoke when you’re tired or impaired.
• Be sure smoke alarms are in working condition.
• Install new smoke alarm batteries at the beginning of each semester.
• Know where all the building exits are located.
• Dumpster fires are very common. Dumpsters should be kept away from buildings and cars.
• Never ignore fire alarms; do not wait to see fire or smoke.
• Don’t worry about “grabbing your "stuff.” Your life is more important.
• Report fires to the fire department.
A list of resources includes:
Minnesota State Fire Marshal Web site at www.fire.gov
Underwriters Laboratories site at www.ul.com
Center for Campus Fire Safety at www.campusfire.org
Campus Firewatch program at www.campus-firewatch.com
State Fire Marshal Division video on campus fire safety at www.youtu.be/AZxch0kuGUs
The mission of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety State Fire Marshal Division is to protect lives and property by fostering a fire-safe environment through fire/arson investigation, code development and enforcement, regulation, data collection and public education. Data collected by the State Fire Marshal Division from fire departments statewide is analyzed and used to determine the best methods of public education and enforcement to improve fire safety in our state. Find data online at fire.state.mn.us; select MFIRS, Reporting and Statistics, and Fire in Minnesota.